Teach children pet safety rules

Kids and pets often make best friends for life, but keep them both safe with some tips from trainers

Thinking of adding a furry member to your family? That’s great news, especially if you have kids.

The benefits of having a pet are vast for children: increases in self-esteem, nurturing skills, cooperation and, best of all, the creation of an unconditional, loving bond that brings immeasurable joy to your entire family.

But before you bring home your dog, cat, puppy or kitten, it’s important that your kids (and you, too!) know some simple rules to guard against injuries such as bites and scratches, which are often caused by children yanking an animal’s tail, chasing or cornering it, or approaching it suddenly.

First, it’s important to remember that dogs are “pack animals,” and live according to a social hierarchy, said Kim Lasek, head trainer at North Shore Animal League America.

“When a dog enters your home he views you all as littermates and will typically ‘pick on’ the youngest female member of the family or whoever shows fear,” she said.

“That’s why you must establish every person in the family as an authority figure or ‘pack leader’ to the dog by simple, everyday interactions.”

Here are some handy tips to guarantee that your children and your pets will have a safe and happy relationship:

Never leave a young child unsupervised with an animal. Accidents happen even with the most trustworthy children and pets.

Never approach any animal, even your own, when he or she is eating, sleeping, chewing on a toy, in its crate or caring for its young.

Always pet an animal gently, with no pulling or tugging, and never from behind.

Don’t make loud noises or sudden moves when approaching an animal.

Children should always ask an adult before approaching an animal you don’t know.

If the adult says the pet is friendly, reach out your hand with the palm facing up and gently move it toward the pet’s nose for sniffing. Do not touch the animal’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth or genitals.

Avoid contact with a dog or cat’s waste, which can transfer disease.Young children are especially tempted to reach into the cat’s litter box; it looks like a mini-sandbox!

Don’t let your child touch or stand near a pet during times of heightened excitement — for example, while the dog is eating; when someone comes to the door; or when the dog is barking at a squirrel in the yard or at someone through the window.

Make sure your children understand that a pet is a living creature to be cared for and respected. Animals have needs and feelings, and they rely on us, their caretakers, for companionship and loving care.

Also, here are some important lessons to share with your kids if a strange dog ever approaches them:

Stand perfectly still like a tree, keeping your hands down at your sides.

Never run. Dogs love to chase moving objects, and that includes people! They might chase as a playful game, but if you don’t know the dog, you can’t be sure.

Stare straight ahead. Don’t stare into the dog’s eyes. In dog body language, that’s like asking for a fight.

Keep quiet. Screaming may scare the dog.

Back away slowly, one step at a time.

The good news: In most cases, a strange dog will merely sniff your child and walk away – especially if they follow these rules. But just in case, let your child know if he or she is ever attacked by a dog, the right thing to do is curl up in a tight ball, hands covering their face.

Source: North Shore Animal League America